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Alabama Hospital Scores High on 'Fortune' List

Donna Young

East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC), a county-owned hospital in Opelika, is one of Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For in 2001. The 352-bed facility came in at number 36 out of 100, just above software giant Microsoft, which ranked at 37.

EAMC is the first public-sector agency ever to make the list.

The hospital had to undergo a series of scrutinizing audits, surveys, and employee interviews to make the list.

EAMC Director of Pharmacy Buddy Young said the acute care hospital had no control over how the survey process was conducted. And, he said, the process did not include an examination of the hospital’s financial records.

(The hospital had a net income for fiscal year 2000 of $5.14 million and net patient-service revenue of $135.5 million.)

"The process was focused completely on what the hospital does for its employees," Young said.

Young said EAMC has an unusual working environment.

"Our CEO, Terry Andrus, never wears a tie and spends his days in the divisions with the employees, rather than hidden in his office like some company CEOs," he said. "It all comes down to a belief in people. We have a good administration. They support everyone here to make sure we are on the cutting edge of things. Like our automated drug-dispensing cabinets that we have all throughout our hospital. The support we get is one reason I haven’t been interested in leaving and going somewhere else for more money."

Young has been with the hospital for 21 years. He oversees 25 pharmacists, 23 technicians, and supporting staff.

Having Auburn University’s School of Pharmacy just a few miles away from the hospital, Young said, helps when he is recruiting new pharmacists.

The school offers graduate programs in hospital pharmacy, pharmacy care systems, and pharmaceutical sciences, as well as a nontraditional doctorate of pharmacy program for pharmacists with a B.S. degree.

Linda Davis, staff pharmacist, has worked at EAMC for 19 years. She started in the hospital’s laboratory and, in 1989, moved to the pharmacy after completing pharmacy school.

Davis said she has a fair amount of autonomy in her job.

"We are encouraged to interact with doctors and other hospital employees rather than being told what to do," she said. "We also have good working hours and are not expected to work overtime. And we can pretty much get our vacation scheduled when we need it."

Davis said one unusual program the hospital supports is its Cornerstone Society, an employee-run organization that helps workers in crisis.

Cornerstone is completely funded by donations from employees. The society helps EAMC employees and their families pay for medical expenses, buys toys for needy children, and provides other financial aid to employees. It also works in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for low-income families.

Davis has helped build two homes for EAMC employees and their families.

"I’ve pounded nails and put up walls and roofs," she said.

Each year Cornerstone completely funds one Habitat for Humanity home that goes to an EAMC employee.

Young said another employee program the hospital has is its gain-sharing program. The program rewards employees when the hospital scores well on its patient satisfaction surveys. Press, Ganey Associates of South Bend, Indiana, conducts and analyzes the surveys for the hospital.

Bonuses, Young said, are distributed equally to all 1500 employees on the basis of the hospital’s score.

Over the past two years, the hospital has achieved a satisfaction rate of 85.7%.

A second bonus is distributed to employees when the hospital meets its financial goals. That bonus is based on profitability of the hospital and how long each employee has been with the hospital, Young said.

In addition to its other programs, EAMC holds a celebration luncheon for employees the day before the annual Alabama–Auburn football game.

"It’s a belief that when an institution expects people to give to it, it should also give back to the employees," Young said.

The hospital was established in 1952 and is the third largest employer in Lee County, a community of about 100,000 residents located near the Georgia border.